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Heart of Indian Capital Wrapped in Security Cordon for Olympic Torch Relay


Following a 22-hour stay in Pakistan, where it was kept off the streets, the Olympic Torch heads to India. In New Delhi, thousands of security personnel have being mobilized to protect the traveling symbol of the games. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports organizers plan to move the torch 2.5 kilometers through the city Thursday, hoping to out-run thousands of Tibetans vowing to disrupt the relay.

Many of India's elite security and police squads have been mobilized in the heart of the capital to try to keep demonstrators out of hand's reach of the Olympic torch. In its around-the-world tour, the Torch has been met by raucous protesters decrying what they say is China's harsh rule of Tibet.

An estimated 15,000 security personnel, including paramilitary commandos, are in New Delhi to provide a triple ring of security for Thursday's torch relay.

A spokesman at the Ministry of External Affairs confirms that members of the special blue-track-suited Beijing police squad, known as the Olympic Holy Flame Protection Unit, are also likely to be alongside the torch.

Analyst M.V. Rappai of the Institute of Chinese Studies says India's government, which has unresolved territorial and other issues with Beijing, does not want a troubled torch run to damage the improving diplomatic relationship.

"China has become as the key trade partner for India," he noted. "If there is a major disruption [to the torch relay] it will add to the bilateral problem. I think that is the concern of the government of India."

To reduce the likelihood of trouble, the original route for the New Delhi relay has been cut from nine kilometers to less than 2.5 kilometers, after the flame received hostile receptions in London, Paris and San Francisco.

Officials say roads surrounding the relay in New Delhi's center will be sealed off for a five-hour period, Thursday, and, except for some invited school children, the public will be kept away.

Tibetan youth have vowed to attempt to disrupt the event to further embarrass China, the host for the Summer Games.

India is home to more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees, who have streamed here since the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader, took refuge in Dharamsala in 1959.

Wednesday, about 100 Tibetans failed to breach the beefed-up security cordon around the Chinese Embassy. Police say some demonstrators were detained.

The Tibetans are planning their own parallel protest relay, Thursday morning in the capital. A dry run on Tuesday caught police by surprise before a protest torch was doused by officers and several dozen Tibetans taken into custody.

Some prominent Indians, including actors and athletes, have bowed out of the official relay, amid the Tibetan controversy.

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